LESSON 16 The "mayflower"
On the northern border of Nottinghamshire stands the little town of Scrooby. Here, about the end of the sixteenth century, there were some grave and well-reputed persons, to whom the ceremonies of the Established Church were an offence. They met in secret at the house of one of their number, a gentleman named Brewster. They were ministered to in all scriptural simplicity by the pastor of their choice—Mr. Robinson, a wise and good man. But their secret meetings were betrayed to the authorities, and their lives were made bitter by the persecutions that fell upon them. They resolved to leave their own land, and seek among strangers that freedom which was denied them at home.
They embarked with all their goods for Holland. But when the ship was about to sail, soldiers came upon them, plundered them, and drove them on shore. They were marched to the public square of Boston,(1) and there the Fathers of New England endured such indignities as an unbelieving rabble could inflict. After some weeks in prison, they were suffered to return home.
Next spring they tried again to escape. This time a good many were on board, and the others were waiting for the return of the boat which should carry them to the ship suddenly dragoons were seen spurring across the sands. The shipmaster pulled up his anchor, and pushed out to sea with those of his passengers whom he had. The rest were conducted to prison. After a time they were set at liberty. In little groups they also made their way to Holland. Mr. Robinson and his congregation were reunited, and the first stage of the weary pilgrimage from the Old England to the New was at length accomplished.
Eleven quiet and not unprosperous years were spent in Holland. The Pilgrims worked with patient industry at their various handicrafts(2) They quickly gained the reputation of doing honestly and effectively whatever they professed to do; and thus they found abundant employment. Mr. Brewster established a printing-press, and printed books about liberty; which, as he had the satisfaction of knowing, greatly enraged the foolish King James.(3) The little colony received additions from time to time as oppression in England became more intolerable.
The instinct of separation was strong within the Pilgrim heart. They could not bear the thought that their little colony was to mingle with the Dutchmen and lose its independent existence. But already their sons and daughters were forming alliances which threatened this result. The Fathers considered long and anxiously how the danger was to be averted. They determined again to go on pilgrim age. They would seek a home beyond the Atlantic, where they could dwell apart and found a State in which they should be free to think.
On a sunny morning in July 1620, the Pilgrims kneel upon the sea-shore at Delfthaven,(4) while the pastor prays for the success of their journey. Out upon the gleaming sea a little ship lies waiting. Money has not been found to transplant the whole colony, and scarcely one hundred have been sent. The remainder will follow when they can. These hundred depart amid tears and prayers and fond farewells. Mr. Robinson dismissed them with counsels which breathed a pure and high- toned wisdom, urging them to keep their minds ever open for the reception of new truths.
Their little ship, the Speedwell, brought them to South-ampton, where they found the Mayflower, a ship hired for the voyage, and a small band of Pilgrims from London. At Plymouth the Speedwell was pronounced unseaworthy, and was abandoned; and the Mayflower, crowded with the whole party (one hundred and two souls), set sail alone.
The Mayflower was a ship of one hundred and sixty tons. The weather proved stormy and cold; the voyage unexpectedly long. It was the middle of September when they sailed. It was not till the 11th November that the Mayflower dropped her anchor in the waters of Cape Cod Bay.(5)
A bleak-looking and discouraging coast lay before them. Nothing met the eye but low sand-hills, covered with ill-grown grown wood down to the margin of the sea. The Pilgrims had now to choose a place for their settlement. About this they hesitated so long that the captain threatened to put them all on shore and leave them.
Little expeditions were sent to explore. At first no suitable locality could be found. The men had great hardships to endure. The cold was so excessive that the spray froze upon their clothes, and they resembled men cased in armour. At length a spot was fixed upon. The soil appeared to be good, and abounded in "delicate springs" or water. On the 23rd December the Pilgrims landed—stepping ashore upon a huge boulder of granite,(6) which is still reverently preserved by their descendants. Here they resolved to found their settlement, which they agreed to call New Plymouth.(7)
The winter was severe, and the infant colony was brought very near to extinction. They had been badly fed on board the Mayflower, and for some time after going on shore there was very imperfect shelter from the weather. Sickness fell heavily on the worn-out Pilgrims. Every second day a grave had to be dug in the frozen ground. By the time spring came in there were only fifty survivors, and these sadly enfeebled and dispirited.
But all through this dismal winter the Pilgrims laboured at their heavy task. The care of the sick, the burying of the dead, sadly hindered their work. But the building of their little town went on. They found that nineteen houses would contain their diminished numbers. These they built. Then they surrounded them with a palisade.
Upon an eminence beside their town they erected a structure which served a double purpose. Above, it was a fort, on which they mounted six cannon; below, it was their church. Hitherto the Indians had been a cause of anxiety, but had done them no harm. Now they felt safe. Indeed there had never been much risk. A recent epidemic had swept off nine-tenths of the Indians who inhabited that region, and the discouraged survivors could ill afford to incur the hostility of their formidable visitors.
The Pilgrims had been careful to provide for themselves a government. They had drawn up and signed, in the cabin of the Mayflower, a document forming themselves into a body politic, and promising obedience to all laws framed for the general good. Under this Constitution they appointed John Carver(8) to be their governor. They dutifully acknowledged King James, but they left no very large place for his authority. They were essentially a self-governing people. They knew what despotism was, and they were very sure that democracy could by no possibility be so bad.
The welcome spring came at length, and "the birds sang in the woods most pleasantly." The health of the colony began somewhat to improve; but there was still much suffering to endure. The summer passed not unprosperously. They had taken possession of the deserted clearings of the Indians, and had no difficulty in providing themselves with food. In the autumn came a ship with a new company of Pilgrims. This was very encouraging; but unhappily the ship brought no provisions, and the supplies of the colonists were not sufficient for this unexpected addition. For six months there was only half allowance to each.
Such straits recurred frequently during the first two or three years. Often the colonists knew not at night "where to have a bit in the morning." Once or twice the opportune arrival of a ship saved them from famishing. They suffered much, but their cheerful trust in Providence and in their own final triumph never wavered. They faced the difficulties of their position with undaunted hearts. Slowly but surely the little colony struck its roots and began to grow.
To what town did the Pilgrim Fathers originally belong? How were they prevented escaping to Holland on their first attempt? What happened next spring? How many years did the Pilgrims spend in Holland? How were they occupied? Why did they resolve to sail to America? Where did they embark? In what year? Where did they meet the Mayflower! How many sailed from Plymouth? When did they land? Where? To what was their number reduced before spring? What did they erect on an eminence beside their town? Where had they framed their constitution? Who was appointed first governor? To what straits were they frequently subjected?